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Michael Green of Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach shoots in a game with Florence (Mississippi) during the Beach Ball Classic at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center on Thursday. Florence won 72 to 49. The tournament continues through Monday night. Local teams in the annual event also include Myrtle Beach and Socastee. Other teams in the tournament are from California, Texas, New York, Kentucky, Ohio, Arkansas, Virginia, West Virginia, Mississippi and North Carolina. Photo by Janet Morgan/Myrtle Beach Herald janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

The Beach Ball Classic’s ability to attract top talent frequently means moving right on past local schools.

In fact, only four of the nine Horry County public schools have ever appeared in the main event during its first 38 years. It’s why Colin Stevens is appreciative of the opportunity his squad had last week.

“It’s special for our teams to be in it, because a lot of our kids have grown up watching it,” said Stevens, the coach at Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach, the fifth team from inside Horry County to ever play in the event. “This is the first time Christian Academy has actually been in it, and I get it. I’m of the mindset of you’ve got to earn it. I wouldn’t expect to ever get back in it again unless we have really good players. That’s the reality of it.”

Christian Academy went 1-2 in its first showing at the Beach Ball, losing by double digits to Archbishop Stepinac (New York) and Florence (Mississippi) before beating tournament co-host Socastee.

The Saints’ performance was actually slightly better than the winning rate of its local predecessors. Through 38 years and nearly 220 games involving Horry County programs, they’ve combined to win just 15 percent of their Beach Ball contests. In many ways, it’s a product of the acclaim that has made the Classic the type of tournament it is perceived to be year after year. The high-profile event regularly includes some of the best teams in the country, and local teams who aren’t considered powerhouses by even South Carolina standards are little more than lambs to the slaughter.

“The brand is important. The brand is what we have to protect. You’re selling the Beach Ball Classic,” said tournament director John Rhodes. “The people who  come here want to see the national teams. They want to see the teams they hear about, read about, that they don’t see every day. In order to preserve this event and continue to get the sponsorships that we need, the ticket sales we need, you’ve got to provide them with that talent.”

That means going outside the state lines, which Rhodes deems as the committee’s “local” pool. After Socastee and Myrtle Beach, the teams with the most appearances are from New York (Archbishop Molloy), Kentucky (Scott County) and Virginia (Bishop O’Connell).

In fact, of the just shy of 300 basketball-playing schools from the Palmetto State between the South Carolina High School League and the South Carolina Independent School Association, only 36 have been invited to the Beach Ball, counting Christian Academy’s 2018 appearance. In 2019, Dorman will be No. 37.

Although he speaks from a stable position of inclusion, Socastee coach Derrick Hilton suggests that number increase, if for no other reason than he gets to hear the side effects on the back side of each tournament.

“They should get an opportunity to experience it,” he said. “They always end up saying ‘We would have done better than this team or that team.’ No, let them experience it. I know we’ve got some decent teams in Columbia and Florence. … I think they need to get more of the best teams in the state to get a chance.”

Both Hilton and Stevens said they would have been interested to see how specific Horry County teams would have done over the years, most recently the Jimmy Nichols-led Conway squad from a year ago that eventually made a considerable run in the Class 5A state playoffs.

And for what it’s worth, Stevens admitted there is next to no chance that his team gets an invite to the most recent Classic without a roster that is led by current senior guard Mike Green.

“No. And we shouldn’t,” Stevens said before moving on to the difference between local success and something more. “Being a good team in your region doesn’t mean you deserve a national tournament bid. I’m of a real mindset that we earned it. We deserved to be here. It’s exciting because it wasn’t gifted to us.”

Rhodes has a self-imposed max of four South Carolina teams each year, and he actually chooses to max out at three most years. Given Socastee and Myrtle Beach’s guaranteed invitations for the foreseeable future, that means little opportunity for others. He said he doesn’t intend on a fourth in-state team next year.

“I know it’s a disappointment. I’m not blind to that,” Rhodes said. “But it’s a decision I make. It’s not easy providing that talent all the time because we have other tournaments going after the same groups. Socastee and Myrtle Beach are always going to be in the event. That’s the way it has been and will be. If I’m looking at teams from [around] the state, I want the best.”

Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236

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